Published July 13, 2012
| Discovery News
As the search for Amelia Earhart's plane probes the deep waters off Nikumaroro, a tiny desert island between Australia and Hawaii where the legendary aviator may have landed 75 years ago, new clues have surfaced in the artifacts unearthed on the coral atoll.
A variety of fragmented objects collected by archaeologists at a site on the uninhabited island may have originally been American beauty and skin care products, all dating to the 1930s, says a new summary of research by the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (or TIGHAR), which will be published in October by the academic journal Pacific Studies.
TIGHAR researchers had already suggested that a small jar, found broken in five pieces, could have contained Dr. C. H Berry's Freckle Ointment. Marketed in the early 20th century, the concoction promised to make freckles fade.
"It's well documented Amelia had freckles and disliked having them," Joe Cerniglia, the TIGHAR researcher who spotted the freckle ointment as a possible match, told Discovery News.
Cerniglia also identified two other bottles as containers of skin products. One green bottle was possibly St. Joseph's Liniment, which had applications in first aid and as a mosquito repellent.
"This broken bottle was found partially melted in the remains of a cooking fire," Thomas King, TIGHAR's senior archaeologist and author of the summary article, told Discovery News.
"It may have been used in an effort to boil or distill drinking water -- there is no fresh surface water on Nikumaroro except what can be caught during sporadic rain squalls," King said.
Spectrographic analysis on another bottle revealed it likely contained Campana Italian Balm, a popular American hand lotion in the 1930s.
"Traces of a substance found in the Nikumaroro fragment matched well with residue from an intact 1934 Campana Italian Balm bottle," Cerniglia said.
Other beauty products included a shattered bottle with the word "Mennen" embossed on its side in Art Deco lettering, apparently a 1930s lotion or cosmetic container of American origin, and small fragments of red material chemically identified as probable cosmetic rouge.
"Earhart is known to have carried a compact which, if it was like others of the period, would have contained rouge," King said.
No beauty case is complete without a mirror, and indeed two small pieces of thin beveled glass that match the mirror of a known 1930s vintage American woman's compact were found at the site.
"I wish we knew more about Amelia's cosmetics. We know she had a compact, and a news account has recently surfaced of her powdering her nose before getting out of the plane in Australia," King said.
He added that archived news account included a very grainy photo of Earhart holding something rectangular about the size of a "book-shaped" compact capacious enough to hold the Nikumaroro mirror.
Intriguingly, King and colleagues may have found evidence for the compact itself in several pieces of thin ferrous metal.
"Chemical analysis on one of the metal pieces indicate the presence of carminic and alginic acids, often used in cosmetics," King said.
Overall, the abundance of cosmetics and beauty products on the desert island provides further circumstantial evidence for the presence of an American woman.
"U.S. Coast Guardsmen, island colonists, and British colonial officials are unlikely to have had such items," King said.
All the cosmetics artifacts, along with many other objects, were found in an area that TIGHAR calls the Seven Site, in the island's remote southeast end.
There, a partial human skeleton was found in 1940 by the island's British administrator. Unfortunately the bones have been lost.
TIGHAR researchers are currently investigating the reef slope off the west end of Nikumaroro in the attempt to find pieces of Earhart's Lockheed Electra aircraft.
"The objective of the expedition is to locate, identify and photograph any and all surviving aircraft wreckage," Ric Gillespie, TIGHAR's executive director, said.
The expedition and its findings will be captured by a film crew from Discovery Channel and aired as a documentary in August. Discovery News is following the deep water search with daily updates from Nikumaroro.